The subject of loss I've heard is written about extensively, but luckily I have never really had a large need or motivation to study it. I find myself wondering now what others feel like, what I should feel like, and methods for coping. How quickly should one go on with one's life? Is it fair to be happy when someone else cannot?
I've come to realize that I'm curious about the process of mourning and want to learn more about it. I'm also curious about how to best deal with loss and what it means to people as a community. I've seen that loss can bring people together and bring them closer, and it is sad that it sometimes requires loss to do that. But perhaps that is something good that the lost soul leaves to those who outlive him or her.
I've also realized that dealing with loss is really personal. Though I'm curious how others feel and what they do, I'm happy with myself and the feelings I've had. I try to live my life in a way where if I or someone I love is gone the next day, I have minimal regrets. Therefore, I speak to every single person that's important in my life every day and see everyone in my family at least weekly. This might be my cultural upbringing and family norms, and I know it can seem strange to people raised differently than I was (or whose families live far away). But for me it feels natural and normal, and I'm happy about that.
In addition to being close to the people I love when they're alive, when they're sick, I try to pray for them. And when they leave my life, I've tried to think about them in a positive light, to imagine they're in a better place, and most importantly to remember them for how happy they made me feel.
To that end, I wanted to make a small tribute in this blog post to the memory of my grandfather and my dog. Below is a small description of each, including a brief glimpse into what they were all about, to both help me remember them in the future and to honor them in some small way.
My grandfather Izyaslav (leftmost in the photo) was born in Chernivtsi, a small town in Ukraine. When he was a young boy, World War II broke out, and he was separated from his family for several years. He had to completely fend for himself as he journeyed alone and worked to reunite with his family. He was an engineer by training and handy with hands, working on cars and in industrial settings throughout his life. He was very proud of his son (my dad in the middle of the photo) for becoming a doctor and being first in his class, and always stressed the importance of hard work and being a good example to others. He always told me stories and explicitly tried to impart his wisdom on me whenever we were together, but he was also always curious about my life and wanted to hear everything about it. His dream was to dance at my wedding one day, and his dream came true just over one year before he passed away.
Favorite things in life
- Knight Rider: When I was growing up, my grandparents picked me up from school everyday and fed me (my parents were often working late in the hospital as residents). I watched the Knight Rider TV show with my grandfather almost everyday, and we both enjoyed the smart talking car and the action (who doesn't love Hasselhoff?). I really think the Knight Rider show was formative of my love of computers, AI, and science.
- Mephisto and Salamander shoes: My grandpa had trouble walking later in life, and he was always passionate about shoes that were comfortable. These were his favorite brands, and though he rarely got out to stores or bought himself new shoes, he was always a fan of these brands and comfortable walking shoes in general.
- Massages and "kavali": My grandfather's touch was always therapeutic, and he was always into hugging and giving massages whenever he could. It was good exercise for his hands (which trembled due to his experiences during the war), and he would use the opportunity to say a blessing of his own that he made up called "kavali" (which means "heels" in Russian), wherein he blessed my heels and wished me luck. This always seemed like a silly childish thing, but now I realize it was a unique way to show how he cared and to create a loving bond. He often told me about how he was raised in a very large family where people would constantly joke around and laugh together, and because our family in the US was small, he took it upon himself to add in the closeness and joy whenever he could.
- Be wary of others, especially in business: That is a mild way of putting it; my grandpa often told me that business is all lying. This is probably the way he was raised and a result of his experiences in the war, but in some ways it is still relevant today. Though a lot more businesses (especially socially entrepreneurial ones) create value without lying and without taking something from others, many businesses still derive all their value from taking advantage of others and using one's unique position or information to profit. Is this really lying? I guess that's just a matter of perspective.
- Fend for yourself: My grandfather always taught me to trust others but to check their work and fend for myself. I understand where that attitude may have come from, and I think it's a valuable perspective to have. It's obviously a matter of calibration in every different circumstance in order to figure out how much trust is appropriate.
- Be honorable: For my grandfather, this meant doing the best work one can do and gaining respect in the community. He was very proud of my dad for his performance in school and professionally, and he was also proud of me. He never really pushed anyone to work hard; in fact, he always said he knew that the outcome would be as good as it was. I guess his pride was quite motivational.
I miss him very much, and he is in my thoughts everyday. I know that he is no longer suffering and sick, and I know he watches over me always.
We rescued my dog Marcello when I was in college, right after my first dog Mario died. These are the only two dogs I've ever had, and my family has always rescued Neapolitan Mastiffs. We love the breed, and I've been lucky to read about their unique history in several Italian and English books that I've collected over the years. Marcello was sick throughout his life with many mild/topical issues, and he began life very anxious around people and somewhat aggressive. However, the love our family gave him quickly brought him peace of heart, and he became an extremely loyal, protective, and loving member of our family. To me, he was like a brother or a friend; we always loved to play together outside and go for walks, and I missed him dearly when I moved out and could only visit him once a week to brush his teeth.
Favorite things in life
- Sunbathing: The first thing Marcello would do when outside on the grass (after peeing) would be to topple his 130-pound body onto the grass and roll around like a pig. He loved to soak in the Vitamin D from the sun and to chase me as I played and instigated him to run. He also loved to grab a huge tennis ball that was bigger than the size of his mouth and to play tug-of-war with me using several rope toys that he had.
- Greenies: These were his favorite treat, and he would eat them with delight whenever he could. He obviously needed to eat the large/giant size, and he would usually finish one in about two minutes. I could see from the saliva he generated that he was enjoying himself, and though he liked other treats quite a lot, I knew Greenies were his favorite (especially by the look in his eye right before he got them).
- Sitting on couches: We tried to make this illegal at first, but he was so convinced of being a human being that we could not resist him much longer. He would always be polite and wait until we gave him some space on the couch or were off the couch before he would mount and lie down. Perhaps it was to feel human, perhaps it was just to be closer to us; in any case, Marcello was not a just-lie-on-the-floor kind of guy.
- Always be happy when you see those you love: No matter what was going on or how sick he was, Marcello would always wag his tail, jump up on his hind legs, and push his body against my legs whenever I saw him. Dogs are just like this: they are always excited when they see you, as if there is nothing more important in the world to them and there is nothing they could've been doing that would have kept their attention or stopped them from saying hi. I often find myself and those around me so wrapped up in "work" and "life" that we can't snap out of it when we see someone for the first time in the day or after a break. This is an important trick that we "old dogs" should learn from real dogs. As Charles de Gaulle said, "The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs."
- Never give up: Marcello kept a good attitude and took care of himself up until the end. He never cried or winced or made life more difficult because of him, and he was always happy with whatever we needed him to do. I know he was in a lot of pain at the end, and I respect how strong he was and how he never gave up.
- Be loyal: Marcello would always bark like crazy whenever there were people near the house and would spend hours on end by my side or by my mom's side when we were at home. When we went for walks, he would sniff around, but he was never interested in other people or other dogs; he always stayed close to us and would only get aggressive or anxious when he thought we were threatened. This is pretty typical dog behavior, but it's still remarkable in my opinion, and I respect him for his innate, instinctual loyalty.
I miss Marcello very much, and he is in my thoughts everyday. I know that he is no longer suffering and sick, and I know he is sunbathing and playing with Mario in a better place as well.